Most widely known by music fans as one-fourth of the indie Americana band Mipso, Libby Rodenbough’s distinctive fiddle tones and ethereal, lilting vocals push the boundaries of traditional genres into new territory. On her first solo record, this spirit of artistic exploration and expansion remains a constant for Rodenbough. Plucked from the Mipso collective, Rodenbough adds acoustic and electric guitar, piano and synth, and more to her personal repertoire of instruments, and invites in a widened family of stellar friends and musicians to help bring Spectacle of Love to fruition.
Rodenbough kind of quietly released Spectacle of Love back in May, but it’s a wonderful album, and we wanted to know more about it and what she’s but up to while not on the road. So DittyTV Senior Editor Tim W. Jackson touched base with Rodenbough for this 5 Questions segment.
1) I lived in the Asheville area for about 8 years. Are you still in North Carolina, and what have you been up to during these days of quarantine and no touring?
I am. I just bought a house (well really my parents bought me a house) in Durham, and it’s a fixer-upper, so I have been learning a lot of fun new stuff like how to seal the holes around your pipes so rats can’t get inside. But also lots of quality time getting to know myself outside the context of constant motion, which is something I haven’t done in many years.
2) Your album, Spectacle of Love, released in late May—again, days of quarantine and no touring!—so how have you adjusted to releasing your first solo album, which is outstanding, by the way, with no touring to support it?
Well, thank you much. You know, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to tour it anyway, because I had a bunch of shows already lined up with my main band. I thought about waiting until I could plan a proper tour, but then I’ve been sitting on these songs for a long time, and I wanted to to release them—literally, like to let them go free from of the captivity of my mind. But I think about the time when I put this out, which was just a few days after George Floyd was murdered, and it already felt so weird to announce something about myself then, so I’m grateful now that I wasn’t standing up on stages trying to sing my love songs to people these last couple months. I’m glad that I’ve been home to go to protests and try to learn more about the place where I live.
3) This is your first album apart from your regular band, Mipso. What can you tell us about recording on your own, and who were the other collaborators in the studio?
The biggest difference as compared to Mipso albums is that I did this in lots of little stints in various studios and DIY home setups, finding bits of time here and there between Mipso tours. I’ve been in this area for more than a decade now, and I’ve made some musical friendships that are very precious to me.
I knew exactly who to call for a bass clarinet solo, for example (that’s Danny Abrams). Alex Bingham played bass and mellotron and OP-1 drums and helped me arrange many of these songs; Phil Moore played just about every instrument on several of the songs and was my engineering mentor and another producing mind on the project and mixed it; Ryan Johnson was clutch on slide guitar and additional engineering; Chris Gelb and Joe Westerlund each did drum duty like champions; Kate Rhudy has lent her ear to my songs for years leading up to these recordings and also sang harmony on several of them; Tatiana Hargreaves played the 5-string fiddle on “Under the U-Bahn” and “Country Jam” that made those come to life. And then Saman Khoujinian, co-founder of my label, Sleepy Cat, came in at the end with some final touches and mastered it. To call it a team effort would be an understatement.
4) And let’s talk about the songwriting for a bit. The album offers 13 songs, all of which were written by you. What was the process like being the sole songwriter for an entire album?
These are all songs I wrote while simultaneously writing what would become Mipso songs. My songwriting output certainly ebbs and flows, but essentially I’d say I’m always working on a handful of songs. So there were just a lot accumulated over the years. I felt silly putting 13 songs on an album, but they had all become special to me, and I wasn’t ruthless enough to hew it down just for the sake of hewing it down. It was thrilling and uncomfortable to be the final word on these. I’ve gotten so used to editing and arranging as one-fourth of the Mipso executive committee. It feels funny to listen to my album and hear only my own voice singing lead on 13 songs in a row. I hope other people won’t get tired of it!
5) Finally, let’s end with something fun. If you could collaborate on an album with any living musician, who would it be and why that person?
I’m so bad at these questions, as if I think the answer is going to come back and haunt me or something. Like I’m going to say Jim O’Rourke and then Aldous Harding will see I said that and be like “well then, if I’m not her top choice then it ain’t happening.” It is not fun for me at all, but that’s because I’m being an idiot about it. This is two, but if the remaining Roches ever wanted to record again I would like to be there because they seem like they would be delightful and strange company, and I might be able to sing the third harmony part decently because I grew up listening to their Christmas album every year and I have practiced singing in Roche voice a lot. (That was my way of getting three/four different names in there.)
Nicely done, Libby, and I have that Roches Christmas album, too! Best wishes to you, and we hope everyone enjoys your video for the song “Colors” right here.